Nigeria is going through difficult times. From the harsh economic realities of inflation to the country’s security challenges, the problems are quite inundating.
The recent demise of the Chief of Army Staff, Lt-Gen Ibrahim Attahiru, and his entourage who were poised to halt some of these challenges, especially in the area of security, has equally added to the backlog of distress.
As Nigerians mourn the loss of these great men who selflessly served the motherland, the current spate of attacks on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) inflames the overall situation.
Reports have it that unknown gunmen attacked another INEC secretariat in Anambra State on 23 May 2021. The latest attack occurred in the state capital, Awka. According to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), the gunmen came fully armed in three Hilux trucks at around 8 p.m.
It was gathered that they attacked B Division of the Nigeria Police Force, Awka, shooting sporadically for about an hour before proceeding to an office of the electoral agency.
Videos that have hitherto circulated the media space captured how part of the INEC building was on fire, as well as rapid gunshots between the gunmen and police operatives.
The incident followed with the tag, “Black Sunday in Awka” with conjectures that several police officers and innocent Nigerians lost their lives making the rounds on social media.
Spokesperson to the Anambra State Command, Ikenga Tochukwu who confirmed the incident dismissed reports of any casualty consequent on the attack. According to him, 95% success was recorded in the attack even though he acknowledged that “we just lost some parts of our building and the unknown gunmen burnt four vehicles at the INEC office”.
Meanwhile, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was hit by a similar attack on 16 May 2021 as hoodlums invaded its headquarters in Enugu at Independence layout and set its properties on fire.
The attack which also occurred in the evening came on the heels of another attack that happened four days after the office of the commission in Udenu local government council was set ablaze. As in the case of Udenu, the Enugu attack almost saw the INEC headquarters razed to the ground but for the timely intervention of the Federal and State Fire Services.
All of these however started in Akwa Ibom in Essien Udim Local Government Area. INEC National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye who bemoaned the attack noted that “items destroyed include 345 ballot boxes, 135 voting cubicles, megaphones, water tanks, and office furniture.”
The current spate of attacks on INEC and its facilities extends to Abia and as stakeholders have said, if the attacks linger, future polls may be affected. This is particularly as the 2023 general elections beckon.
Sheu Sani, former Kaduna Central Senator, has equally warned that such attacks would lead to anarchy, terrorism and disorder in the Southeast.
While urging the people of the Southeast to resist such attacks, he pointed out that the Southeast may find itself in the situation of the North if the attacks on Police and INEC facilities continue. In Sheu’s words, “Crippling law enforcement is a prelude to anarchy, terrorism and disorder.”
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The nefarious trend is quite alarming especially when one considers the fact that they occur against the backdrop of a modern and democratic framework. Regrettably, the inability to put a cork to it is what is seeing it extend to other states in the Southeast and Southsouth.
Worrisome as this is, observers and investigators need to question the motives and objectives behind these mind-boggling attacks.
It is alleged that those behind the attacks on police and military posts as well as operatives are also behind these current attacks. Even so, those who have been attacking and killing security operatives have cited the stern refusal to give in to any secessionist struggles as the basis for these excessive undertakings.
It is noteworthy that the issue of political marginalisation has always informed some of these calls for secession. But aren’t ballot boxes one of such effective methods to address some of these issues? Is it not rather disturbing that the country’s electoral system which should be the first point of security for agitators to drive home their demands is now an object of destruction?
With this same hand of destruction that went from police and military operatives to their facilities and has now been extended to INEC and its facilities, one is tempted to query what do these set of people really want?
Asides the fact that it is a taint on the electoral processes, these several attacks on INEC will only create opportunities and excuses for those in power to hold on to it. It is in fact an excuse for things to continue the way they are.
Beyond misgivings, things will not eclipse more than the current back and forth concerning issues of marginalisation that have held sway for decades if these spates of attacks are left to linger.
As Sheu Sani pointed out, “the attacks on Police formations and INEC facilities in the Southeast must be resisted by the people of the Southeast; to prevent the region from finding itself in the situation of the Northeast”.
Besides, it is no news that the country is currently beset with the problem of dwindling revenues. State governments are constantly lamenting while seeking ways to cut down costs of governance. A few states like Kaduna have taken serious measures to meet up with this exigency, even though they have met with a serious backlash from the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC).
Funding is thus a problem and Nigeria’s elections largely depend on it.
The Federal Government is responsible for providing facilities and offices for INEC to allow for participation in the electoral process. Such important national assets and storerooms of electoral materials took time and huge resources to procure. Given the present economic crises, how will the Federal Government manage to replace these facilities?
If Government manages to replace them, wouldn’t the same monies have been useful in other projects within the communities if they were not attacked?
The persistent attacks if left to linger will indubitably affect electoral funding and by extension undermine the capacity of the country’s electoral body to organise elections, thereby leading to a botch in the electoral process.
Even the law stops where it tramples on the right of another. The attacks are thus a threat to Nigerians’ right to air their voice in the elections.
Leaders in regions where this fire is brewing need to rise up to the occasion and bury this evil before it becomes a national disaster.
Protecting public institutions like INEC should be the first point of call for every agitator not impressed with the current system. The attack on INEC is a bastardisation of democracy. Our future as much as our lives largely depend on the electoral process and one cannot fail to emphasise that institutions, as well as facilities around it, should be protected at all costs.
It is of a truth that it is only through a democratic process that any political issue can be addressed. Elections are the best way to effect advantageous leadership change. Violence is as much a setback as it is an exercise in futility.